Al pomodoro please: red, white & Nebbiolo for the 4th

pasta al pomodoro

Mommy and daddy had hotdogs and burgers with all the trimmings for a quiet Fourth of July celebration at home as we continued to wait for the big day to arrive.

We’re now nine days away from Baby P 2013’s expected due date.

Georgia P came nine days early. So mutatis mutandis… Our bags are packed and ready to go.

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96 Gaja Conteisa wowed me, 99 Produttori del Barbaresco Asili humbled me (TY @KeeperColl)

Above: Some may be turned off by the oxidative quality of the Fiorano whites. I think they’re super groovy. This 1994 Sémillon was made when the old Prince Boncompagni was still on this earth. It had solid acidity and its dried stone fruit flavors and aromas were lively and rich.

One of the coolest things about what I do for a living is that collectors of Italian wine often invite me to taste their wines with them.

There is no one who does more to foster the Austin wine and food scene than the lovely Diane Dixon, whose Keeper Collection produces a series of events here each year, focusing on and featuring young sommeliers and chefs.

Above: Of all the Gaja wines from the 1990s, my favorite has always been the Conteisa, named after the “highly contested” (conteisa in Piedmontese) parcel where it is grown. There’s more Barbera in this wine than his other Langhe Nebbiolo (and unlike the more famous ones, it was never classified as Barbaresco). Great acidity, brilliant fruit.

She and her husband Earl are just really cool folks who recognize the importance of supporting our food and wine community.

On Friday night we convened at my favorite Austin wine bar where the owner graciously let Diane open a few bottles.

Above: Here’s my tasting note… !!!!! So youthful, so powerful, this wine is going through a “closed” period and while ungenerous with its fruit, it lavished my palate with its nobility and grace. I’m hoping Diane will let me taste it again in five years or so. What a stunning wine!

With every wine that was poured, Diane asked me to talk to our small group about each one. The story of the Prince Boncompagni and his moldy casks; Gaja and the reclassification of his Langhe wines at the end of the last century; Produttori del Barbaresco and how many Langaroli now call 1999 (and not 1996) the greatest vintage of the decade.

Somewhere between the Gaja and the Produttori del Barbaresco, I realized that Diane had thoughtfully created this flight just for me. It’s one of the coolest things about what I do for a living and it’s one of the coolest things about being part of the Austin wine and food scene.

Diane and Earl, what a thoughtful flight you put together for me! Thanks for everything you do for all of us…

Scavino vs. Produttori del Barbaresco: a political allegory

One of the cool things about what I do for a living is that wine (sales) reps will often offer to “taste me on” their wines.

Last night, I was catching up with one of my clients here in Austin and a rep asked me if I’d like to taste the 2010 Langhe Nebbiolo by the “father” of modern Langa, Paolo Scavino.

It just so happened that I was drinking the 2010 Langhe Nebbiolo by Produttori del Barbaresco, one of the stalwarts and standard-bearers of traditional Nebbiolo.

Even though I can’t say I’m a fan of the Scavino style, I thought that both wines were showing great.

The Scavino had that trademark cherry cough syrup note (easy to identify even when tasting this wine blind) and I was surprised by how tannic it was (citing second-hand sources, the rep told me that Scavino is declassifying some of its best fruit, otherwise destined for its Barolo, and using it for this wine; after tasting the wine, I believed him). It was elegant and focused and it had good acidity. While I just can’t get around that cough syrup flavor, I can see why people like this wine and why it does so well in restaurants.

The Produttori del Barbaresco was all classic, all the way. Bright and light on the palate, this wine leaned more toward berry fruit with a balance of earth and the cooperative winery’s signature acidity keeping all the other elements in check. Tasting it side-by-side with the Scavino, I couldn’t help but note that the Produttori del Barbaresco has very little tannin in it. This softness, combined with the acidity and clarity of fruit, is one of the reasons why this wine does so well among restaurant-goers (not to mention the affordability).

I’m not sure how it happened but the conversation shifted to politics. The rep is a Romney supporter and a diehard republican.

As they sat there on the bar, the wines became — in my mind — an allegory of our deeply divided country.

It’s a facile analogy, I know, but it just leapt out at me: on the one side, a nineteenth-century cooperative of farmers united by a priest in a hilltop village, a bottle of earth and berry fruit, ever true to its original mission; on the other side, an old Langarola family who had led the charge of modernism in the 1990s, abandoning the traditions of a bygone era and delivering a hearty, tannic wine that tasted of cough syrup, slick, polished, and refined, well intentioned and honest no doubt, but detached from the place whence it came.

“I guess you don’t like cherries,” said the rep when he noted that I preferred the Produttori del Barbaresco with my meal.

“Cherries are fine,” I said, “but the wine’s just not my speed.”

“Fair enough,” he said.

As far as I know, he made a “placement” last night.

I guess that in Austin — the little blue town in the big red state — there’s room for both.

Ready or not: 07 Produttori del Barbaresco Asili vs. 07 Chiarlo Tortoniano

Unfortunately, it happens all the time: you find yourself at dinner with a good friend (in this case, a best childhood friend) who is new to the wine world and who insists on tasting you on a wine that they’ve discovered with no regard for your personal tastes or palate (how could she or he know?).

It’s exactly what happened when Yele and I visited a restaurant in La Jolla the other night with a close high school friend of ours (a Hebrew school friend for me; that’s how far we go back). I had a bottle of 2007 Produttori del Barbaresco Asili in my bag: however young in its evolution, I wanted to taste a bottle from my allocation just to check in with the wine, see where it’s at in its development, and indulge in one of my favorite wines of all time.

Said friend, who had eaten at said restaurant a few nights earlier, wouldn’t listen to our gentle admonitions and he insisted that he allow him to buy our table a bottle of Chiarlo 2007 Barolo Tortoniano in 375ml.

The 2007 Asili was extreme in its tannic expression and frugal with its fruit. California, where I maintain my cellar, gets a smaller allocation of Produttori del Barbaresco crus and I’m thrilled that I was able to get a case of this wine. I probably won’t revisit it for another few years but there’s no doubt in my mind that it’s going to become one of the gems of my collection. The practically winterless 2007 vintage in Langa has delivered some of the most muscular, opulent expressions of Barbaresco that I have ever tasted (remember when Tracie P and I tasted the 07 Asili with Bruno Giacosa on our honeymoon?).

My experience with Langaroli wines from 2007 was a stark counterpoint to the bright cherry cough-syrup fruit of the 2007 Tortoniano by Chiarlo. There’s no doubt that this is a well made wine but it’s just “not my speed,” as I like to tell folks when I politely decline to taste a given wine. The tannin was well-balanced in the wine but I just couldn’t get past its yeasted quality and its softness. It wasn’t bad (in fact it was very elegant). But it simply didn’t reflect the appellation or the vintage. It tasted more like a high-end Russian River Pinot Noir than it did Langa Nebbiolo — at least to me.

Having grown up in San Diego, I often find that my peers took paths in life widely divergent from mine — in wine tastes and ideology. Actually, I should say the opposite: I spent my entire adolescence leaving Las Vegas La Jolla, heading to Mexico, to Italy, to New York, and now Texas.

It’s often hard to taste wine with them. But ready or not, I love them just the same.

A treatise on tannins @EatingOurWords

This 1974 Produttori del Barbaresco classic Barbaresco came from the personal cellar of my friend Levi Dalton, one of the sommeliers I admire most.

Have you ever been to a wine tasting or dinner party and heard some blowhard try to befuddle and belittle an enthusiastic however neophyte wine lover by asking can you taste how smooth the tannins are in this [red] wine?

One of the most common misperceptions in the wine world is that you can taste tannin. In fact, tannins are expressed through the mouthfeel of wine. In other words, you perceive tannin through a tactile sensation.

Click here to continue reading my post today for the Houston Press and to learn my trick for teaching wine lovers how to understand what tannins are and how they affect the flavor and mouthfeel of wine…

Awesome pizza at Caffè Calabria (San Diego) and Produttori del Barbaresco Asili 04

Beyond the olive oil-cured red hot chili peppers (peperoncini), there’s not much Calabrian about Caffè Calabria in San Diego.

Back in Seattle, he said, where he first became a coffee connoisseur, owner Arne Holt had seen the rise of so many pseudo-Italian venues with meaningless name that “I just randomly pointed my finger on a map of Italy and landed on Calabria.”

Plenty of other folks have chronicled Arne’s inspirations for Italian-style, in-house roasting of his coffee beans. And Arne was noted for the excellent coffee at the caffè long before he fired up his Neapolitan pizza oven (which evidently sat dormant for a number of years before he began making pizza here).

Tracie P and I were thoroughly impressed with the quality of the products and execution of the pizza when we visited with our San Diego crew on Sunday night: the pies were undercooked in the middle, as per Neapolitan tradition, and the toppings were fresh and rigorously canonical.

The pizza was great but the thing that really took it over the top was the way Arne’s staff slices the prosciutto. His Berkel slicer is out of commission, he told me, and so he’s using a conventional deli slicer. But he slices the prosciutto just thick enough so that the heat of the blade doesn’t melt or cook the cured pig thigh.

We liked the prosciutto so much (served above with a domestic burrata) that we ordered a second serving of just prosciutto.

My only lament would be that I wish Arne had a more adventurous wine list that reached beyond the usual suspects (mostly modern-style commercial wines).

The bright, fresh Bianco Classico by Terlano at $38 was ideal in any case with the salty prosciutto and the heat and richness of pizza.

Arne does allow corkage and BFF Yelenosky had brought a bottle of Produttori del Barbaresco 2004 Barbaresco Asili (!) to celebrate Georgia P’s first visit to San Diego.

The wine was extremely tight and very tannic, more so than the last time I tasted this vintage from Asili about a year ago. Earth dominated the fruit as the aromas and flavors began to express themselves and the wine’s savory notes almost had an au jus tone to them. They were held in check nonetheless by the dark berry notes and brilliant acidity of a wine that I believe will be one of the greatest vintages delivered by the Produttori (similar, in my view, to 1989). A stunning wine even in this closed moment…

The icing on the cake was watching one of my oldest and closest friends, a brother really, Irwin, holding little baby Georgia.

He and I have known each other since our early teens and we’ve remained super close since those tender years. What a thrill for me to share the joy of our little baby girl with someone who’s known me nearly all my life.

Buon San Valentino a tutti! Happy Valentine’s Day, yall!

Ratti old school Nebbiolo, worth the extra bucks in Texas

It’s the times we live in: connectivity and virtual media have leveled the playing field for wine pricing in our country.

Sommelier Rory and I see it all the time on the floor at Sotto in Los Angeles: a guest is seated, she/he looks at the wine list, and then immediately compares the prices of the wines with their retail price listings on

Like combing your hair on the floor of a restaurant, comparing wine prices while out for dinner is one of those things that is regrettably tolerated in society today.

I’ve been spending a lot of time browsing WineSearcher these days (at home and not in restaurants) because I’ve been writing about mostly under-$25 wines for the Houston Press food and wine blog.

A quick search this morning for one of my favorite expressions of young Nebbiolo — Renato Ratti Nebbiolo d’Alba Ochetti — reveals that here in Texas I pay up to $10 more per bottle than my friends in California (my friend Ceri Smith, super cool Italian wine lady, sells it for $21 at her shop Biondivino in San Francisco; $28 is the lowest I can find it in Texas).

Other than the fact that the virtual monopoly of the big distributors and the greed of the Texas wine brokerage system often adds to the cost of favorite wines, there’s really no reason why we should have to pay more here in the Lone Star state. But I love this wine so much it’s well worth the extra ten bucks.

The other night, Tracie P and I brought a bottle over to friends Misty and Nathan’s house (remember Nathan’s ribs paired with Nebbiolo, back when Tracie P was still Tracie B?).

Nathan had marinated some skirt steak, giving the beef a tangy note that played beautifully with the earthy, salty undertones of the Ratti Nebbiolo, which made from 30-year-old vines grown in the sandy subsoils of Roero and macerated for under a week (according to the winery’s website), giving the wine gentle tannic structure.

Where Produttori del Barbaresco Nebbiolo d’Alba (a top under-$25 wine for me) tends toward bright fruit (especially for the 2009), Ratti’s always leans toward earth and mushroom. They’re both old school expressions of the variety but Produttori del Barbaresco’s can be more lean and show brighter red and berry fruit while Ratti’s digs in with a little more muscle and a lot more barnyard. I love them both…

These days, it’s hard to imagine the pre-WineSearcher world and it’s hard to resist the urge to compare prices around the country. But when it comes to Nebbiolo, I just can’t compromise for the sake of bargain hunting. Pork chops at half price still ain’t kosher…

LOVING the list at Fonda San Miguel…

The list at one of me and Tracie P’s FAVORITE restaurants in the world, Fonda San Miguel (Austin), is OFF THE CHARTS ROCKING right now. Earlier this week, a close friend treated us to dinner and a bottle of the 2000 Gravonia white by López de Heredia. Man, that wine is INSANE right now. Wonderful fruit, great acidity, and the oxidative note that takes those wines over the top. Great pairing with the queso and the sopecitos.

Next we paired the 09 Produttori del Barbaresco Langhe Nebbiolo with our entrées. I had the carne asada tampiqueña… A match made in heaven (I wrote about it today over at the Houston Press for my “Odd Pair” rubric).

Produttori’s 09 Langhe Nebbiolo is one of the more light-bodied vintages in recent years and its bright fruit and acidity were fantastic with the dish and stood up beautifully to its intense flavors and spiciness. Seriously, one of the best meals of the year so far…

How cool is that? The best Mexican restaurant in the U.S. and they have Produttori del Barbaresco on their list! Love it…

Buon weekend yall…

01 Barbaresco Pora and the best friend of my brother who died

Every five years or so, I get an email from Professor Wilkins (above) and before email, I’d get a letter or a phone call. “I want to know how you’re doing and what’s going on in your life,” he’d say. A million happy questions would follow, with him wanting to know every detail of the vicissitudes of my life, studies, work, etc.

You see Professor Wilkins — David — was the best friend of my eldest brother, ten years my senior, Aaron Louis Parzen, who died in 1972 when he was fifteen in a car accident not long after my family moved to San Diego from Chicago, where he and Aaron both attended middle school at the University of Chicago Laboratory School. Today, David — Professor Wilkins (here’s the Wiki entry devoted to him) — is one of the leading law scholars in the country, with a chair at Harvard, and he moves and works within some of the most rarefied circles of our country (“the first lady was a student of mine,” he told me last night). A celebrity in his field, he was in San Diego last night to give a private lecture to a law firm.

I hadn’t traded messages with David for some time and although I began writing about wine more than 13 years ago, he and I never made the connection to his interest in wine until he stumbled upon my blog. As it turns out, David began collecting wine in the mid-1980s, before the crush of wine culture seethed in the U.S. in the mid-1990s. “I read [Robert Parker’s] Wine Advocate when it was still a photocopied report,” he joked.

Wanting to share a special bottle with him, I reached deep into my San Diego wine locker yesterday and grabbed a bottle of 2001 Pora by Produttori del Barbaresco (above). The wine was remarkably tight for this regularly more generous cru but as it opened up and began to reveal its fruit, it sang stupendously in the glass. As much as I oppose the fetishization of old wine (and those who cry “infanticide!” when you open “young” Nebbiolo), I have to say that the wines of Produttori del Barbaresco only get better over time and this wine was still extremely youthful — like a teenager full of energy and promise and brilliance and power — however cut short by life’s vicissitudes.

My memories of Aaron are fleeting and distant. I was five when he died. I believe that I see Aaron in David the same way that David sees Aaron in me. Not that I’m as brilliant or handsome or athletic as Aaron was (and he was): we see Aaron in each other because that’s where he lives — in our memories, in our hearts, and in our dreams. When he died, I became the “middle child” and as cliché as it sounds, I have followed the path of the middle child, pursuing music and writing, while my brothers have enjoyed immensely successful careers as lawyers and now in public service. However unlikely our bond, Aaron’s memory links me to David and as it turns out, the vicissitudes of life have formed an unexpected and equally happy bond between us — through wine.

As we chatted last night over dinner and ten-year-old Nebbiolo, David told me the same stories about Aaron that he tells me every time we connect. And like every time, they brought tears to my eyes and laughter to my heart as the bitterness of the tannin and the sweetness of the fruit danced in our glasses.

Barbaresco, fried chicken, and keyboards

Morris “Mars” Chevrolet flew in last night with his Nord and Moog and so Tracie P fried up some chicken, mashed some potatoes, and sautéed some broccoli raab and I popped a bottle of 2006 Barbaresco by Produttori del Barbaresco.

You’ve heard me say it before: I am truly blessed to have such a loving and beautiful wife, so generous in spirit, and so supportive of my music. She’s been cooking up a storm, feeding the band, and enjoying the music as we have transformed our little slice of heaven on the corner of Alegria [happiness] and Gro[o]ver into a recording studio. The fried chicken was delicious.

The 06 Produttori del Barbaresco — a wine and vintage much discussed here on the blog — was a little tight last night, even after a few hours of aeration. Seems like it’s closing up a little bit and so maybe it’s time to cellar (following its initial brightness and generosity of fruit).

But the “music is flowing… amazing… and blowing my way”… who knows the song? It’s one of my favs.

Tomrrow’s the big day with the whole outfit in the studio… and so now it’s time to get back to tracking!